First Quarter Grades for the Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have gotten off to a disappointing start, with their 16-22 record through May 14, good enough for last place in the National League West. Where the fault lies is somewhat of a contentious issue, with some fans calling for Don Mattingly’s firing and others blaming injuries.
Regardless, the team is underperforming at an unacceptable level given its $220 million payroll, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
All stats courtesy of Fangraphs, unless stated otherwise.
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The right side of the infield has actually performed pretty well, thus far, with Mark Ellis owning a .342/.363/.452 line (AVG/OBP/SLG) and Adrian Gonzalez having an OPS of .914. Both have injury concerns, as Ellis is on the DL right now and Gonzalez is day-to-day with a neck strain.
The problem with the infield, though, is the other side. Hanley Ramirez has played just four games this season due to multiple injuries, and his replacements have been bad. Luis Cruz has reached base just seven times this year, and he has zero extra base hits. Justin Sellers has just a .517 OPS, although he was mainly in the lineup for his defense.
The saving grace may be Dee Gordon, shockingly. Gordon has an .805 OPS in the admittedly small sample size of 36 plate appearances, but he is showing a legitimate increase in his walk rate.
In 25 games in Triple-A, Gordon had a 12% walk rate; in the majors, thus far, he is at 13.9%. His career rate is just 5.3%, so if this is a legitimate skill change, he has a chance to be a productive player.
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The outfield faces a similar problem that the infield does, although not to the same extremes. Carl Crawford has been fantastic (.315/.379/.488), but both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are struggling with their power (.350 SLG and .381 SLG for Kemp and Ethier, respectively).
Kemp is coming off offseason shoulder surgery, so the fact that he’s taking a while to recover isn’t particularly shocking. Ethier, though, is just not producing: Many of his underlying numbers are in line with his career marks, but he just isn’t hitting for power.
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Clayton Kershaw has been his standard awesome self, with a 1.62 ERA through eight starts, and Hyun-jin Ryu has been a pleasant surprise (4-2, 3.40 ERA). Behind them, though, the questions start. Zack Greinke pitched well in his two starts before getting injured, but just 11.1 innings isn’t enough to be as valuable as the Dodgers need him to be.
The injuries haven’t been limited to just Greinke, though. Chris Capuano has only made three starts, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley have made two each and Stephen Fife made just one.
The starters have still been relatively productive, though, as the rotation is seventh in the NL in quality start percentage, according to Baseball-Reference.com. But, they’ll need Josh Beckett to step up, as he is third on the team in innings, but cannot get anyone out (5.13 ERA, 1.49 WHIP).
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The bullpen has been bad this year. They have allowed 43 percent of their inherited runners to score, according to Baseball-Reference.com, which is good for second-worst in the National League.
The main culprit is closer Brandon League, who has somehow only struck out seven batters in 14.1 innings, according to Baseball-Reference.com. He has a 6.28 ERA, and while he likely isn’t this bad, if his strikeout rate doesn’t creep up, he won’t be very effective.
Kenley Jansen has been the main bright spot. In 19.2 innings, he has a 2.29 ERA and a 12.36 K/9, which is actually slightly below his career mark of 14.32.
Ronald Belisario, the third most used reliever in the Dodgers' bullpen, also hasn’t pitched very well, with a 4.15 ERA and an average of under one strikeout per inning.
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Mattingly hasn’t done a terrible job, but he hasn’t been exceptional either. He continues to leave Brandon League in the closer role, despite his aforementioned lack of strikeouts and the fact that Jansen has been exceptional.
The injuries have been unfortunate and really beyond his control, but he has to take some of the blame for the poor performance of so many on his team. They rank 28th in the majors in runs scored, which is totally inexcusable.
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No one outside of the organization has any clue what the training staff actually does, and Greinke’s injury was particularly fluky. However, the rest of the team has had bad injury luck.
Chad Billingsley’s is the most egregious, as he attempted to rehab his elbow over the winter instead of electing to have Tommy John surgery straight away. According to a report by Will Carroll and Thomas Gorman of Baseball Prospectus, rehab appears to have a very low success rate, and, indeed, Billingsley is now on the shelf until the middle of next season.
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The front office hasn’t had much time to make an impact, but they still haven’t managed to put a winning team on the field despite the high payroll. Going into a season with Luis Cruz and Justin Sellers as starting infielders is unacceptable, even given the injury to Hanley Ramirez. The team had planned to start Cruz at third anyway.
The Aaron Harang trade was also useless. Despite having Tim Federowicz waiting in the minors to be the backup catcher, Harang was traded to Colorado for Ramon Hernandez. Then within two weeks, Billingsley, Capuano and Lilly were hurt and the Dodgers needed a starting pitcher.